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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interviews With Jack Hanna, Ryan Seacrest

Aired January 6, 2004 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: Steve Irwin, the famed "Crocodile Hunter," shocks the world, feeding a live croc with one hand, holding his month-old son in the other. We'll get reaction from world- renowned animal expert Jack Hanna. And then Ryan Seacrest of "American Idol" getting his own new TV show and also replacing a legend on radio. We'll have him speak out on everything from "The Croc Hunter" to Britney Spears's quickie marriage to Michael Jackson and more. They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening. Welcome to another edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Ryan Seacrest is our special guest. He'll be with us in a little while. But we're going to spend the opening moments of the program tonight talking to our good friend, Jack Hanna, the host of TV's "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures," the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo. Did a great show with Nancy Grace here during the Christmas holidays. He's in Caliscaw (ph), Montana.

And of course, we want to talk about Steve Irwin, the famed "Crocodile Hunter," who's been chewed up by the critics after his Australian television show showed him hand-feeding a 13-foot crocodile while cradling his month-old son, Robert.

What was your reaction to that, Jack?

JACK HANNA, HOST, "ANIMAL ADVENTURES": Well, Larry, when I first saw it -- you know, I know Steve, and he knows what he's doing with crocs. He knows the reptilian family probably better than anybody. But there comes a point, I think, when I think probably Steve right now maybe won't admit it, but maybe it was going a little bit too far.

Let me give you an example, Larry. Back in 1973 -- I don't really announce this very often -- we had a tragic accident happen with a 3-year-old boy in Knoxville, where I had an animal farm where I had animals for zoos around the country I took care of for them. And this African lion -- a little boy crossed a fence or two -- took the boy's arm off at the shoulder. And I had to go get the arm, and it wasn't able to be put back on the young man.

So as I've said before, Larry, a wild animal is like a loaded gun. It can go off at any time. Now, there's no doubt that Steve Irwin and his wife know the crocs. I'm not arguing that fact, as far as that's concerned. The point I guess I'm getting at is what was the purpose? Now, if the purpose is he lives in -- I've been to his place, by the way. It's a beautiful place. And the purpose of doing this is to teach his child, but I don't think a 5-week-old child understands much of anything. I have three kids of my own, and grandkids, so I have a slew of kids.

When we teach young people, Larry, about animals -- here in Montana, we have grizzly bears. We have bison. We have cougars. When you see a grizzly bear, you see him, hopefully, 300 or 400 yards off because they can run 100 yards in 6 seconds. That's how fast they are. So when we take young people, we show them those animals in the wild, we say, you know, Respect that animal. This is his home and that's where he lives. And we teach them that way.

Now, Steve does a great job with his program teaching people, but my question, I guess, and everybody's question throughout the world, I guess, that this has stirred up, stirred up, is why take the baby on? If he wants to do it himself, then that's fine. He has every right to do that himself. But why film something like that...

KING: Yes.

HANNA: ... to show world? That's my only concern.

KING: He was supposed to be on with us tonight. They tell me he'll be on later in the week. A friend of his said that he's going through quite a trauma over this. He suggested the video is misleading, that the tape from another angle would have put to bed allegations that the child was ever in danger.

HANNA: Right. And I've seen the tape several times, obviously, and that may be true. But again -- let me go one other example real quick. Back in April, I was in Namibia, southwest Africa, filming over there, the desert over there, obviously. And our guide was a former ranger, a game ranger from South Africa. He was South African, by the way, lived in the bush, everything. He'd toured this area for several years.

It was really hot, 110 degrees that day. He wanted to go swimming in a little pond there, a little pool there or whatever it is. And a croc was over there about, I don't know -- I don't know how far away, but he was over across the way there. And he had the other two rangers with guns watching him. He went in the water. Little did he know there was a huge croc under the water. He leaped out of the water, Larry -- and I wish I had the picture because I saw the pictures of this. Got his chest and grabbed his chest. He's sitting there trying -- he's about 6-5, by the way, a huge guy. The other croc shot across the lake and came dark -- swimming through the air, which you've seen Steve do, and got his arm here, and his arm was gone in a split second. So he drove the Jeep with the stump and that type of thing.

Just six weeks ago, I was in Tanzania, in Grameti (ph), Tanzania, following the great migration. A young man, 17 years old, his car, I don't know, overheated, went down to the water hold, to the river there to get water for his car. Croc came up out of nowhere, took him down, and he was gone, dead.

So I guess what I'm saying is a wild animal, as I said, is a like a loaded gun. It can go off at any time. Guenther Goebel (ph) Williams, who I know you know -- Gunther Goebel Williams used to say you can usually train a wild animal, you can never tame a wild animal, and especially a crocodillian (ph) species, probably. But Steve Irwin knows a lot more about that than I do, but I'm just saying...

KING: But he says...

HANNA: Go ahead.

KING: He says that by having his children live with crocodiles in the back yard, he's being a good father by teaching them about crocs at an early age.

HANNA: Larry, there's no doubt about that. I had eight African lions in my -- in this compound for the zoos in Tennessee. I had everything in the world there. I had three daughters. I had one that was a 3-year-old or whatever it was, when I told you about this accident. But whenever they were there, they were taught not to go across the fence. They were taught to look at the animal with respect and dignity, whether it be in the wild or in a zoological park or wherever it might be. And that's kind of where I'm coming from, from this standpoint.

I'm not sitting here trying to say because I have a TV series, Steve has one, and it's a great one and ours, I think, is pretty good -- but I think it's two different types. You know, Steve is -- he educates through entertainment and he does a good job at that. And hopefully, people enjoy what we do for what we do. But I just think this time -- - and I'm sure -- maybe Steve doesn't realize it, but I'm sure -- I'm a little older than he is. As you get older, you kind of learn things, as you grow older, about what can and what can't happen.

And maybe nothing would ever happen, you know? Maybe -- I'm sure Siegfried and Roy, Roy thought nothing would ever happen with that tiger. I'm sure I never thought anything would happen with my lion. I'm sure that Dale Earnhardt thought nothing would ever happen with his car when he crashed. But you see where I'm coming from?

KING: Yes.

HANNA: I can't tell you what these animals are thinking all the time.

KING: All right. How dangerous is the crocodile?

HANNA: Well, I can just tell you right now -- I'm not -- you know, I'll leave the crocodiles where they are. I was holding about a four or five-footer in Florida, doing a stand-up once, talking about a crocodile at the Gator Land down there in -- near Orlando. And that thing -- the camera guy was maybe two feet from me, and I was holding him pretty good. And that croc -- and I didn't know that much about crocs, it was my fault -- jumped out of my hands and just bit the lens off of a $60,000 camera. And it happened, Larry -- I think there's 17 frames a second, isn't there, in TV? I'm not sure how many frames. But it happened in three frames.

The crocodile is extremely -- it's like a bolt of lightning. If you've ever seen them take down a wildebeest coming across a river, if you ever see what the -- Steve is -- he's shown it many times on his show. They are like lightning, and you have to know what they do.

There's no doubt he knows, but I guess my question goes back, and everybody that's concerned, is -- is why -- you know, what's the purpose of showing a baby? I mean, he can do it himself, if he wants to for his own family. I agree he has to teach him. But why put it on video and show the world? I...

KING: Well, what was the gain, in other words?

HANNA: Right. I just wonder that.

KING: Is a crocodile more dangerous than an alligator?

HANNA: My personal opinion is yes, they're more aggressive. As far as what I've seen -- and I've worked with both of them, nothing like Steve Irwin, but I've worked -- done several shows on the alligator. I've done several shows on Caymans. I've done several shows in South America with the caymans, and with the croc in Africa, with the croc in Thailand, with the croc in Australia, as a matter of fact. And They've got some big crocs over there. There's no doubt about it.

It's like over here, though, Larry. Everybody in Australia -- who knows? Most of the population probably doesn't live -- as you know, they live in major cities in Australia, so most people don't get the opportunity to live like Steve Irwin, out where he lives or around his park or even in the bush out in Australia. Most people live in the city life. So they'll never be exposed to a crocodile. So you know, it's an exciting thing for people to see this type of thing, and that's fine to see that.

But as far as a 5-week-old child -- I just -- this is me, Jack Hanna, OK? You asked me what I would do. I would never, ever...

KING: You would not it.

HANNA: No, and -- because I don't know the croc that well, but I do know other animals, like grizzlies and other animals. I've worked with them for 35 years. I would never even do that with...

KING: I want...

HANNA: Larry -- our first thing on your show, Larry, or any show we do, "Good Morning America," Letterman, whatever it is, is safety. Our No. 1 priority is safety. I'm not saying nothing will ever happen when I do this stuff. I'm saying I take safety very seriously.

KING: Let's show a clip when Steve was on our program discussing this matter. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - JUNE, 2001)

Do you worry about any of these creatures around children?

STEVE IRWIN, "CROCODILE HUNTER": Oh, yes. Constantly.

KING: Do you watch it at zoo?

IRWIN: Oh, yes. My word, yes.

KING: You have a baby?

IRWIN: I've got one. I've got a little -- she's about that big and she's...

KING: How old?

IRWIN: She's 3 years old. Oh, she'll be 3 in July.

KING: Do you let her near?

IRWIN: Oh, yes, mate. She's all over them! All over them.

KING: But don't you worry?

IRWIN: Oh, yes. I'm doing what my dad did.

KING: Which is?

IRWIN: Just nurturing her instincts, let her make minor mistakes and try and help her not grab venomous snakes and don't muck with anything that has the potential to kill her.

KING: Don't you worry?

IRWIN: No.

KING: No?

IRWIN: No. Not at all. You know, as long as she's within sight, I'm pretty happy with her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Any comment, Jack?

HANNA: Well, he talks about children. Larry, if you ever go to the zoo with your kids or grandkids, especially when the zoo first opens, watch when you happens when you take a child around the lions, which are in their natural habitats. Watch when you walk a child in front of those lions or cats or animals of prey, or whatever it might be. I'm not saying a crocodile thinks that way, but cats do. Cats especially -- and we've just been filming out -- they love to watch the small things. They love to go after the small things. So you know, a zoological setting is a very, very safe place, but you can learn about an animal's reactions and their instincts when you visit a great zoological park by -- you know, they obviously like the small things.

KING: Yes.

HANNA: I'm not saying a crocodile likes a big thing or a small thing. They like about anything there is. I don't think their brain's that big, obviously.

But to answer your question, I just think with children, you have to be very, very careful. You know, a child is learning. A child doesn't know, unless you take him to a zoological park and say, you know, This is a bear. You know, They're a great beautiful animal. Look at this animal. These animals in zoological parks are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild. They're there for us to learn about the wildlife in the wild and maybe what we expect to learn about how fast a grizzly is, about how big an elephant is, that type of thing. And they're not there to necessarily play with.

KING: Would it be safe to say he wouldn't do that again?

HANNA: I would think Steve would probably say, you know, this is probably not the wisest thing. Oh, Larry, one last thing. I had the Great Wallendas walk across -- in 1979, the Great Wallendas walked across our tiger exhibit at the Columbus Zoo. We had 15,000 people watching, one of the greatest PR events in the history of the zoo. However, the next day, I said to myself, Jack, as an animal person, that really wasn't the right thing to do for the dignity of the tiger or the safety of the Wallendas, and I was sorry I ever did that. And I said publicly that I was sorry. So I don't know -- I don't think Steve will make -- maybe he will, maybe he won't. But the point I'm getting at is, I don't know why it was worth it.

KING: Jack, thanks so much.

HANNA: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Always good having you with us. Jack Hanna, the host of "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures," regular on LARRY KING LIVE, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, with comments about "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin. We hope Steve comes on. We told him -- people, hopefully, later this week.

We'll go to break and come back with Ryan Seacrest. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IRWIN: Some people ask, What if you fell over? Yes, well, I could fall over right now. But what would have to happen for that event to take place would be a meteorite would come out of the sky, hit Australia, we would have an earthquake, 6.6 on the Richter scale, just like Iran, and then I would fall over. Well, guess what? I had a safe working distance with that crocodile when that took place.

And I am sincerely sorry that people have seen what I did as endangering my son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back. If you get the January 9 edition of "Entertainment Weekly," there's a major story on one of the hottest names in the business in television, the music man, "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest. Blond ambition has earned him a new talk show, makes him hair -- and we mean heir apparent to Dick Clark. He will start his own show -- his own television show called "On Air With Ryan Seacrest." It will premier next Monday, January 12, in national syndication. The usual hour of play will be 5:00 PM. It'll be a combination of entertainment, guests, lots of fun. He will succeed Casey Kasem as host of radio's "American Top 40," and he's also returning for the third season as the host of "American Idol" later this month.

Lots of things to talk about. What do you think of this crocodile thing?

RYAN SEACREST, "AMERICAN IDOL": It's bizarre. You know, you look at those images and you think, How does a parent not say, I can't put my child in that situation? You know, I mean, this guy clearly doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong, from the reports I've seen. I'm not a parent, but you are. But I would assume, when you're a parent...

KING: I wouldn't go near a crocodile. I'm Jewish.

SEACREST: But I'm saying...

KING: I'm Jewish.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SEACREST: When you're a parent, one of your responsibilities is to keep children away from harm. And whether it be something sharp in the house or whether it be something hot or a crocodile, you just don't put a child in that situation. So I'm baffled by looking at those images.

KING: By the way, we'll take calls for Ryan Seacrest later. Before we talk about the new show, what do you make of this Britney Spears thing?

SEACREST: Oh, Larry, you're putting me on the spot.

KING: You know here, right?

SEACREST: I've met her. I'm a big fan of Britney Spears. I...

KING: As a talent?

SEACREST: Yes. I just -- you know, as a talent, also as a young person who works very hard. There's something to be said about work ethic, certainly for young people in this country. There are so many young folks who struggle and don't know exactly what they want to do and really struggle with finding a passion. Fortunately for you, fortunately for me, for Britney, we knew what we wanted to do and we went after that early. So I admire her for what she's been able to accomplish at such a young age.

And I think, you know, when you look at what happened in Las Vegas -- I saw her briefly, didn't speak to her, on New Year's Eve, and she looked like she was having a great time with her friends. I got done hosting the New Year's Eve show, and I saw her at a place called the Palms Casino, at a bar. And you know, looked like she was just hanging out. And then I read in the papers the next day or so that she got married to this guy from her hometown.

I would imagine it's just a case of a joke or a stunt between the two of them gone too far. And they may not have gone to bed because it happened very early in the morning, but I guess the sun came up and they said, What did we do this for?

KING: So it was a whim?

SEACREST: I think so. I think so. You know, you can't imagine what her life is like. And she probably thought, Hey, this might be fun, didn't think of the ramifications, didn't really go too deep in terms of the thought process and did it and then realized -- I mean, we've all done things in our life. I mean, that's a pretty big thing to do, but we've all done things and said, Why did I do that? It seemed like such a great idea. But what was I really thinking? And the truth is, you weren't thinking.

KING: That's right. Dang it.

SEACREST: Darn. What happened to me?

KING: The Michael Jackson saga -- by the way, were you at his party, at his rally to support him, the neverending party?

SEACREST: No, I was not at the ranch. There was a rally a few weekends ago.

KING: Yes.

SEACREST: I was as shocked to hear that I was there as perhaps any of the folks that know me, my friends. I...

KING: It was reported you were there?

SEACREST: What happened was, it was reported that I was at his ranch for a support rally. The truth is, I've never met Michael Jackson. I was shooting an AT&T commercial late into that night here in Los Angeles, and woke up Sunday morning. And Larry, I mean, you have to -- I'm laying in my bed, and I flip on CNN, and on the scroll, along the bottom is, Ryan Seacrest partying all night at the Neverland ranch. And I'm thinking -- there was someone with me at the time -- oh, my mom might be watching.

(LAUGHTER)

SEACREST: My pillow -- I nudged my pillow Larry and I said, No, I've been here all night. How could that be? It was just a bizarre, inaccurate report.

KING: How did that happen? Somebody released... SEACREST: I really don't know. I think -- the only thing I can trace it back to is the new TV show you mentioned -- it's called "On Air." we were in talks with Michael Jackson's camp about an exclusive interview. And the only thing that could have, I guess, been confused was the fact that we were potentially going to have a meeting with his people to discuss a live interview.

KING: Ah.

SEACREST: And somehow, my name got on a list that was for the party. But no, I wasn't there.

KING: Would you have paid him for an interview?

SEACREST: Paid him? No. You know, I don't think that's something that we would do on our show. I think -- you know, the new show is a very -- I use this word often in describing it...

KING: What is it?

SEACREST: Well, it's extremely very fan-centric. And to finish the Michael...

KING: Fan-centric?

SEACREST: Fan-centric, fan access to stars. And to finish the Michael Jackson conversation -- if I were to have Michael on this program, I'd want to do, like, a town-hall thing. I'd want to have an audience close to him. I'd want his fans to be able to ask the questions that they want to have answered. I think that that would be an interesting and compelling interview. It's not always about what I want to know. It's really about what everybody else wants to know. So if we were to do something with Michael, or really anybody of that stature, I'd like to see that type of an interview.

KING: Your show is what? "On Air" premieres Monday.

SEACREST: What is it, huh?

KING: Yes, what is...

SEACREST: What the heck are we doing? It's a live entertainment news magazine. It is a live interview show and a live music performance show. So it's everything entertainment, day and date, topical, every day of the week. And as you know, you have a plan, and rarely do you stick to that plan. We're going to do it from Hollywood. We've built our own Times Square...

KING: We're showing the set for the first time ever?

SEACREST: This is it. This is the exclusive premiere of the "On Air" set. That was really a storefront with glass windows, and it looks down on the Hollywood sign.

KING: People can look in?

SEACREST: People can look in and gather. I'd like to officially invite you to be a guest on the program.

KING: I accept. Of course, I'll come.

SEACREST: You'll come on the show? Larry King. All right. Good. So we'll have some good guests. At least I've got -- I've got one big name. And we are inside and outside, Larry. We're going to bounce around. I'm one who embraces spontaneity and one who doesn't work well with too much script.

KING: As we go to break, let's watch a promo for Ryan Seacrest, promoing "On Air With Ryan Seacrest." Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEACREST: On my new TV show, there are things I don't do and things I do do. Weight loss, don't do. Celebrity interviews, do do. Monologues, don't do. Live, unscripted, unpredictable, do do. Great new bands, big do do. The latest entertainment headlines, huge, major do do.

Why are you guys laughing? I can't say do do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: His new show on television premieres Sunday. "American Idol's" coming back. He's going to be the host again, of course. We'll talk about the radio gig.

First, a couple of other things. What do you make of this -- we're going to do it again tomorrow night -- this fascination with the royals and now the story about Princess Di and her husband may have wanted to harm her and -- why are we fascinated with this, do you think?

SEACREST: Well, I -- you know, why are we fascinated with celebrity? Why are we fascinated with any public figure? I mean, you tell me. It's something that is a constant fascination. And you know, in some ways -- I don't know if it's that specifically -- but I'm fascinated and always have been by people that everybody knows. I mean, you always want to know what's going on inside their minds and what they're thinking about. And we earlier were talking about Michael Jackson, as well. I mean, you would like to be a fly on the wall to know what really happened.

KING: Even though -- even though, they may be famous for being famous.

SEACREST: Yes. And I think we're seeing a trend with some people now in Hollywood that are famous for just being famous.

KING: Now, what about the "Billboard Music Awards," which you hosted? Apparently, there was controversy involving Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton's co-star in "A Simple Life." During an exchange with Paris Hilton, she used expletives. What happened? SEACREST: She used some profanity.

KING: I think we're going to show some of it here. Hold it.

SEACREST: OK.

KING: Let's show this...

SEACREST: Here we go.

KING: ... and then we'll get Ryan's comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "BILLBOARD MUSIC AWARDS")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... their hit TV series, "The Simple Life," please welcome Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton.

PARIS HILTON: Now, Nicole, remember, this is a live show. Watch the bad language.

NICOLE RICHIE: OK. God!

SEACREST: All right. Somebody explain to Paris and Nicole, live means we're on television right now. But it was nice to see Paris Hilton, and without the 40-minute download, you know what I mean?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What did they say or she say?

SEACREST: Some things that we shouldn't say on this program. You know, it happens. It's what you invite when you do a live program. It's what you do every day. It's what we knew we were getting into.

KING: She used curse words and...

SEACREST: Yes. Yes. Yes.

KING: Do you know why? Did it fit the setting?

SEACREST: I don't necessarily think it needed to occur. Did it fit the setting? Maybe it fits her personality. I don't know them that well. But it was -- you know, it's one of those things. It happened, and I know that there was panic in the booth, and you're left to just react to it and try to make...

KING: All you can do is all you can do.

SEACREST: All you can do is all you can do. I mean, you know, it's an unscripted show, and kind of -- you want and make the audience feel comfortable after something like that happens.

KING: You did it right.

SEACREST: So... KING: And one of the suits, I'm sure, said, How did that happen?

SEACREST: It was my fault.

(CROSSTALK)

SEACREST: Seacrest, how could you let that happen?

KING: I want a producer!

(CROSSTALK)

KING: All right, now, some other things about you. People say that you're the "poster boy for metrosexuals." What does that mean?

SEACREST: You tell me. What is a metrosexual?

KING: I have no idea. I'm reading copy.

SEACREST: Well, I think you qualify. I think you could qualify as a metrosexual.

KING: Is that hetero guys that dress like gay guys? Is that what it -- no, it's -- what does it mean?

SEACREST: I believe it is a heterosexual male who perhaps cares about his presentation, maybe likes to go shopping and put on a nice shirt, perhaps takes care of his body, wants to work out and be healthy. It's all these things that I don't think are so bad, when it comes down to being a fun person, you know, a person who wants to have a nice lifestyle.

KING: Do you think it's fair to call you that?

SEACREST: Yes, I'm fine with it. I think it's cool. I -- by the way, I invite plenty of criticism and critique and evaluation of my personality and my lifestyle just by some of the things I do and say. I've made it no secret that I've highlighted my hair, and I've just -- I've done these things that I never knew how to do until, when you start a TV show, you have somebody that helps you with things. You say, Hey, let's just have some fun. You know, I mean, I don't know, you have guys who put gel in your hair, Mr. King, I'm sure, before you come on the program.

KING: I guess they -- I don't know.

SEACREST: And a little spray. But I don't think that's insulting. And I think it's OK for a man to say, I want to take care of myself and be presentable for a woman in my life.

KING: Were you a fat little kid?

SEACREST: I was. I was a chubby kid. I would wear my T-shirt when I went to the pool because I didn't want some of the other kids at the pool to poke fun at my rolls. And I remember...

KING: Ah, look at him!

SEACREST: Oh, boy. Yes, that was me, pretending I knew how to play an instrument when I had no -- look at that. See there?

KING: You look like "What me worry?"

SEACREST: I -- look at that. There's a gap in my teeth. Then I had a hair issue -- you know, extra growth.

(LAUGHTER)

SEACREST: That was before any waxings. There it is. See, there? Glasses. There's some braces under there, and there's a huge T-shirt to cover up the rolls.

KING: We would not be betting on television stardom.

SEACREST: No, I don't think so. You know, I used to throw away part of my school lunch, and it pains my mother to hear this story and she just learned about it, I think, a couple weeks ago. But she would pack me -- she was a great -- my mother, Connie, is fantastic. She lives in the South. And she's always pack my lunch, such a perfect meal. And I would throw away everything but the orange because I felt like I needed to lose weight at, like, 12, 13 years old. And eventually, I started to grow, and I began to eat the peanut butter and jellies again.

KING: When we come back, we'll take calls for Ryan Seacrest. We'll talk about him taking over for Casey Kasem on "American Top 40," one of the most popular radio shows ever. And we'll include your calls. Ryan Seacrest, our special guest. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEACREST: What in the heck is going on? Unbelievable. No time for all that. I got to get this show started. No time to listen to people sing!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What, no time to even listen to me sing?

SEACREST: Clay Aiken! I tell you what, Clay. Actually, there's always time for you, my friend. Use your amazing voice, please, and show everybody what a professional sounds like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Sure. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2003 "Billboard Music Awards"!

SEACREST: Not bad for a runner-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Ryan Seacrest, the host of "American Idol." We'll ask about that. But first -- then we'll go to your calls. Tell me about taking over "America's Top 40," because that's Casey Kasem's institution.

SEACREST: It was.

KING: How many years did they do it?

SEACREST: Thirty plus. He's a legend, a guy I used to listen to growing up. And not only listen too, but pretended to be. I remember in my bedroom, shutting the door and pretending to make or making tapes of me acting like I was Casey Kasem counting down America's biggest hits. And just to meet the guy. When I moved to Hollywood, one of the first people I ever wanted to meet wasn't a movie star, it was a disk jockey, it was Casey Kasem. And to have that opportunity and have him believe enough in me to say, you know what, I think you can do a good job.

KING: Did he turn it over to you?

SEACREST: He did, yes. He did. I was his fill-in. I guest host his show a few times and he said you know, I think you can do a great job and take it for the next 30 years.

KING: What about "American Idol." On ward it keeps going, huh?

SEACREST: This is greatest thing that's ever happened to me, to be frank with you. It is the greatest thing that's ever happened to all of us on this program. Without the success of "American Idol" I wouldn't be sitting before you. I wouldn't have the television show and I wouldn't be taking over for Casey Kasem.

KING: Why did it make it?

SEACREST: Sum of all parts, Larry.

KING: Talent shows are not new.

SEACREST: They are not new. If I could tell you on paper here's why it made it, we could all come up with hit TV shows all the time. It made it because you have interesting cast members. You've got dynamic personalities. You've got a live show that's interactive to the audience and the fans. And you've got great characters who are these young people wanting to live out a dream. It's like all those things together combine to make it a fun show to watch.

KING: Your friend, Simon Cowell, one of the judges, wrote a book called "I Don't Mean to Be Rude But...: Backstage Gossip From American Idol & the Secrets That Can Make You a Star."

About you, he says, "he was a good looking and enthusiastic, maybe too enthusiastic. I used to say if he had a tail, he would have wagged it. He reminded me of the dog in the Garfield cartoon, always happy with his tongue hanging out. Simon says it takes three and a half hours to fix your hair."

How do you respond?

SEACREST: Well, at least I have real hair. It takes 45 minutes to put his one. No, he and I became friends quickly on the program. I think we both take our jobs and our careers seriously. But don't take ourselves too seriously when we're on show. I think the second you start taking yourself too seriously, you're losing it. And I admire his instinct and his thought process. And what he's been able to accomplish. He's a very smart man and he's got a great gut when it comes to recognizing talent.

KING: Are there spin-offs all over the world?

SEACREST: There are.

KING: Are there English and Norwegian idols?

SEACREST: They're all over the place. We just did a show called "World Idol." And because I preparing for the new syndicated TV show, I couldn't be in the U.K. to help host that. Yes, it's everywhere. Again, it's a formula that works. It is the fan interaction. It's working with somebody to get their dreams to come true. It's a little bit of everything.

KING: Do you see yourself really as kind of the next Dick Clark?

(CROSSTALK)

SEACREST: To be asked that question is extremely flattering. I see myself, who has always admired a guy like Dick Clark. I mean when you look at role models...

KING: One of the great generalist.

SEACREST: One of the great generalist. One of the great not only presenters, but producers. The man can produce while he's presenting. And that's a unique talent.

So, do I see myself as becoming him? I don't know that anyone can do that.

Do I see myself as somebody that always looked up to him and will always look up to him, absolutely.

KING: Could you bring back "Bandstand"?

SEACREST: Not the way he -- you couldn't do it the way Dick Clark did it.

KING: Havana, Arkansas we go to calls for Ryan Seacrest. The new show "On Air With Ryan Seacrest" premieres Monday. When do you take over "American Top 40"?

SEACREST: This weekend. Nationwide this weekend on radio across the country.

KING: Nationwide this weekend and nationwide television Monday?

SEACREST: Monday.

KING: And you are taking off your regular radio gig for while. SEACREST: The L.A. Version of the radio show, I'm going press pause and I am going launch this new TV show, put my heart and soul into it and hopefully come back to live radio later.

KING: Havana, Arkansas, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Hello, Ryan.

SEACREST: Hi there.

CALLER: I just wanted to ask you a question. On "American Idol, " you always listen to other people sing.

Can you sing too?

SEACREST: Well, no. I can't. That's the reason I decided to host the program. I, like many of us, like to sing in my car and like to think I can sing when I'm alone, But I've had people tell me that's not my path.

KING: Boulder, Colorado, hello.

CALLER: Hi.

KING: Hi. Go ahead.

CALLER: Hey, Ryan. My question for you is if Reuben won "American Idol" how come Clay's so much more successful?

I mean, he sold 2 million copies his first week. Ruben only sold 600,000.

I think he's obviously America's choice.

SEACREST: I think have to wait, honestly, and see what the numbers end up being after a year. Clay released his album first. He released his single before Rube. So, it's hard to compare at this stage. Now, that's not to take anything away from Clay Aiken. The guy was the runner-up. He won this entire country over and he's a likable personality. And I think that that's an interesting point in today's music world. You got to be a talented singer. You should be a talented singer. But you also have to have, I think a great personality and you have to be able to talk and connect with your fans on television and on the radio when doing an interview. So, it's more than walking in and singing.

KING: You have to come comfortably on the screen.

SEACREST: You do. It's true. I think that's evolved over the last handful of years. You have to be not only a performer in terms of being able to sing, but also a presenter. You have to be able to present your personality to the public.

KING: Is it wild to you to be named one of "People" magazine's 50 most beautiful people? SEACREST: I'd say. I'd say, I think it's a little wild to me. I mean, it's not something I ever trained for or thought I'd ever accomplish.

KING: How about remarks about gay rumors and you?

How do you react to that?

SEACREST: Doesn't bother me. I mean, whether it be that or I'm 5'9" and people call me short or hey I don't like the color of your eyes.

KING: It all rubs off you.

SEACREST: Some nights, I'm driving home and thinking, people keep asking me does it bother you. Maybe it should bother me know. But it doesn't. It's part of...

KING: How does your family deal with it?

How does your mom deal with it?

SEACREST: She knows me. You know, she grew up with me. I talk to her everyday. She knows who I am. Doesn't bother her, no.

KING: Gaithersburg, Maryland hello.

CALLER: Hello.

SEACREST: Hi there.

CALLER: Hi Ryan, congratulations on everything going on in your life. Everything so is great for you.

In light of these gay rumors, are you dating anybody?

SEACREST: I am. I do have a girlfriend, I'm happy to announce. I do have a girlfriend.

KING: Tell us who she is. This is fodder for the tabs.

SEACREST: She's a backup singer for Luis Miguel and we met a couple years ago. And I said to Larry during a break, because we were talking about our personal lives for a second. I just -- I don't know what it is you're supposed to feel. I have to be honest. I've never really gotten to that place where I've said, oh, my gosh, I think I'm in love. So it's kind of like...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: How do you feel toward this girl?

SEACREST: I have a great time. I think we're having a fantastic time and we've got a unique connection. So it's -- we're going to take it day by day.

KING: Can she drive you nuts?

SEACREST: She can drive me nuts...

KING: Might be love then.

SEACREST: ... but she can make me laugh.

KING: OK, that's good too.

Tampa, Florida, hello.

CALLER: My question for Ryan Seacrest is what are your thoughts about the controversy of file swapping and downloading of music and also companies themselves suing the users?

SEACREST: It's obviously something we're having to figure out on the fly. It's -- I mean, personally, I believe that -- I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of an artist. If I write a song, produce a song and perform a song and release a record, I deserve to be compensated for that and I deserve to be somebody that not only is compensated, but it gets calculated how much I'm doing and what I'm selling for the charts too. So, you know, I'm an advocate of people receiving what they deserve. And I don't -- if I had the answer, I'd call all those guys and tell them. I don't know what the answer is, but we are obviously going to have to figure it out, and I'm a big believer in the compensation for sharing those things with us.

KING: There has to be some answer, don't you think?

SEACREST: There has to be an answer, but you know, technology moves so fastly and the accessibility to that moves even faster, and we've just got to figure this out.

KING: Ryan Seacrest, who hosted this show one time, will again if he ever has the time.

SEACREST: I'd love it.

KING: You had a good time?

SEACREST: I had a blast.

KING: You had...

SEACREST: Nick and Jessica. Well, you said, who do you want to have on?

KING: Yeah, what the hell.

SEACREST: And I said, I'd love to talk to Nick and Jessica. And you were so great about saying, go for it, have -- I mean, I talked to you before the show. And you said, just -- I was so nervous that Larry was going to give me all these things, do this and do this and this. He goes, Ryan, I'm watching. Just have fun. It was great. I had an absolute blast.

KING: If you're having a good time, the audience has a good time.

SEACREST: And you said this isn't brain surgery.

KING: It ain't brain surgery. That's the truest statement.

SEACREST: Right, I mean, you don't -- but what was the -- you used a little anecdote earlier, what was it? Before the show?

KING: This hour...

SEACREST: Yeah.

KING: When we began this hour, we'll end. When the hour ends, the world will not change. We do the best we can. Life goes on. We didn't cure anyone. We didn't solve any great problems. When we start to think, I'm here to solve the great problems and to tell you what's wrong with the world.

SEACREST: We'll be right back with more Larry King after the break.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEACREST: After 24 million votes, the winner of "American Idol" 2003 is Ruben Studdard!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Mr. Media. Are you going to come back to your radio gig every day, your daily radio gig?

SEACREST: I hope to be on the radio every day again once I get this TV show launched. You know, producing...

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) producers? Or is that the top 40 producer producing the radio show too?

SEACREST: Some of the same people, yes. Some of the same people. You know, when you are -- it's tough, Larry, to answer that question. You get a shot, right? You wait all your life to get your shot. I walked into something called "American Idol." That was a great break for me. I always wanted to have my own TV show. And so, knowing that that window could be open to launch it, I wanted to jump through that window and I said, I've got to do it right now, and I've got to put my heart and soul into it...

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SEACREST: ... and give it everything I can to see if I can make it work. So that being said, I just ran out of hours. I couldn't be on the radio four hours every day live, do the live TV show five days a week and host "American Idol" twice a week. You know, at some point you have to go to sleep.

KING: Wauconda, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry, thanks for taking my call. Ryan, of the three judges on "American Idol," who do you think enjoys that job the most? I mean, who is the most passionate about working with all of those talented young people?

SEACREST: Well, let me answer that in several different ways. Number one, Randy Jackson just has fun, no matter what he does. The guy just loves showing up and being on TV. Paula Abdul really does care for the kids, for the contestants. She spends extra time with them often after the show.

But the man who loves this show the most has got to be Simon Cowell. He gets to be on TV.

KING: It made him famous.

SEACREST: Made him famous. He gets to drive around in his convertible and have people wave and honk at him. I mean, he loves it. So -- you know, but that's part of his charm.

KING: Has his ego run amok?

SEACREST: He's had a huge ego forever, Larry.

KING: Oh yeah?

SEACREST: It was before all of this.

KING: He didn't need this?

SEACREST: He didn't need this to boost his ego. But I mean, you know, I say that lovingly. He's a charismatic, fun guy, and you can't do that show without him.

KING: St. Paul, Minnesota. Hello.

CALLER: Yeah, hi, Larry, thanks for taking my call.

KING: Sure.

CALLER: Ryan...

SEACREST: Yes.

CALLER: I would like to know who is your favorite singer, and have you ever thought of trying acting?

SEACREST: I don't think I'm any good at acting. I can't remember -- I remember when I was going to fill in for you that night, I was like, well, please don't give me too much script, because I can't memorize anything, and they said you don't use a script ever. So I don't know if I'd be any good at the acting thing. I really haven't pursued it.

In terms of my favorite artist, I'm a fan of pop music. I like rock as well. Dave Matthews is one of my favorites of all time. I'm also a big fan of these young people, because of the show that I do, who can make it, who can go after a dream. And even if they're working on becoming better and better and better, as long as they're going after it, I admire them.

KING: What do you make of Rod Stewart doing pop songs from the past?

SEACREST: Well, you see, Rod Stewart and I have this interesting hair connection. You know? I mean...

KING: What?

SEACREST: A hair connection. You mentioned the heir/hair apparent earlier. I mean, I just -- I'm always excited to see Rod, because I want to see what the heck he's doing with his hair.

But Larry, I'm 29. I have not been doing this too long. Rod Stewart, you, Dick Clark, Merv Griffin, this is a group where people have been able to achieve longevity and been able to do it for a while, and maintain. I haven't done that yet. So I don't feel -- like those guys, like I've made it. I feel like, you know, I'm getting to the point where maybe I can try and make it. So when you say Rod Stewart, I mean...

KING: What do you make of him doing old songs? Don't like it?

SEACREST: I don't know. I mean, I saw him do one recently. You know, I didn't love it, but then you know, think of everything fantastic he's done in his career. So you give him one, right?

KING: So you're not a fan, because they are selling well, both albums.

SEACREST: I've liked more of what he's done in the past, you know.

KING: You like the old songs? I mean, his old songs?

SEACREST: Yeah, exactly. So when he did the remake of "This Old Heart of Mine," I like that stuff. You know? That I liked. But how can I sit here and say, well, Rod Stewart doesn't know what he's doing, or Rod Stewart made a bad choice? I mean, it's Rod Stewart, you know?

KING: That's right. Good point.

We'll be back with our remaining moments. As we go to break, here's Ryan hosting New Year's Eve.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEACREST: Five, four, three, two, one. It is 2004, ladies and gentlemen. Happy new year!

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEACREST: Ryan Seacrest was pumped as he looked through the window of his new show. The set, awesome. The live mix of big stars and the latest entertainment news, totally rocked. Only one thing was missing.

There, that's better. He's not just a host, he's a fan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I'll be on, by the way, on January 21. They book fast on this show.

SEACREST: Big names on this program.

KING: They book you fast. Silvis, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry, I'm a big fan of yours.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: Ryan, I was wondering what you were thinking about the Kelly Clarkson "World Idol" controversy? What do you think about that?

SEACREST: Well, she finished second? Am I right by saying that?

CALLER: Yes.

SEACREST: Second place in the "World Idol."

KING: Was there some argument over it?

SEACREST: Yeah. I don't -- I'm not, you know, very much up to speed in the controversy, as you said. I'm sure Kelly wanted to finish first. The young man from Norway, I think, finished first, and again, I wasn't there so I can't speak. I'm speaking a little bit out of school. He was fantastic. He sounded like U2's front man, Bono. And he deservingly won. You know, Kelly has had such tremendous success here domestically, and even internationally, but here in the States, the woman won the first "American Idol" and is still selling a lot of records.

KING: There will always be controversy over any show.

SEACREST: Any time. And you know what, any time you do a live show, you know, it's like, well, what really happened or what was supposed to happen, or what mistakes were in that show? And I think that's the beauty of all of this, is that you can't script it.

KING: Atlanta, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry, hi, Ryan. KING: Hi.

SEACREST: Hi.

CALLER: I'm a huge fan of yours, first of all. And I was wondering, who is your celebrity crush?

SEACREST: Well, thank you for being a huge fan.

KING: Celebrity crush.

SEACREST: Celebrity crush. You see, you grow up watching everyone on TV and in the movies, and you never think you're going to be in the same city as all of them and have the chance to run into them, or the chance to interview them, which could happen with this person I'm going to mention. I have a crush on Julia Roberts, when I think of movie stars.

KING: That's true.

SEACREST: She's so likable, Southern girl, fun, beautiful, charming, extremely successful.

KING: You could love her, couldn't you, Ryan?

SEACREST: Larry, there's a woman I could call for.

See, I'm breaking down the wall.

KING: And she might?

SEACREST: I doubt it.

KING: Don't bet against it.

Charlotte, hello.

SEACREST: You got excited, and I like that out of you, Mr. King.

KING: Charlotte, hello, go ahead.

CALLER: Hi, Ryan.

SEACREST: Hi there. How are you?

CALLER: Good. I want to wish you a late happy birthday.

SEACREST: Thank you.

KING: When was your birthday?

SEACREST: December 24. Fondue in Atlanta with the family, and I turned 29.

KING: Christmasy baby.

CALLER: My question, and I know you've been busy lately. And so I was wondering, what do you like to do in your free time?

SEACREST: I like...

KING: He flies to Paris is (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SEACREST: Well, I did take a little vacation and ran into Mr. Larry King over in France. But I love -- I'm a foody. I love to go out to eat, even if it's a real casual...

KING: A foody?

SEACREST: Foody, we say, that's a person that just gets so excited about great food. I love great food. I -- you know what I do when I go into restaurants, I get the chef to sign and autograph the menu, and then I frame it. If I had a great meal, I have to try to get the chef to sign the menu, and then put it up on this wall of chef fame.

KING: Attaining all you've attained, do you have another goal? I know you want to produce things.

SEACREST: I want to produce more. I want to have a successful run in television syndication, which we're about to embark upon, hopefully starting Monday.

KING: But you wouldn't mind someday having a show in which you're not on the show?

SEACREST: Not a problem.

KING: That you're exec producer?

SEACREST: Absolutely. I don't feel like I need to be on every television show. I know that I shouldn't be on a lot of television shows. So as a creative producer, and, you know, a business win in Hollywood, I would say that's a goal.

KING: Any danger in overexposure?

SEACREST: There's always danger in overexposure, Larry. There's always a point where you can do too much and people can get turned off. And you know, we've seen it with big stars often. I don't think I'm at that point. I think that I'm going to do my best to make wise decisions and put myself in formats and environments that allow me to do what it is I do best, and that is just sort of fly by the seat of my pants.

KING: So don't -- you won't do something you're not comfortable doing, right?

SEACREST: Well, I would have told you that doing a live television show made me uncomfortable before I started doing it. I mean, I was very nervous about hosting the first year of "American Idol" live. I mean, you pretend when you do it, because you feel like you've got to win everybody over that hired you, so that they feel like it's OK that you keep the job. But dude, I was scared. I just said dude to Larry King. But, man, I was scared to death. Scared to death. I got done with the first live "American Idol" and I was soaking wet here, here. You know, I was shaking. I couldn't believe I made it through.

KING: But after that?

SEACREST: But after that, I said, this is what I'd like to do.

KING: Ryan, it's a pleasure to know you. I wish you nothing but the best of luck.

SEACREST: Thank you.

KING: Nothing.

SEACREST: Thank you.

KING: Ryan Seacrest, look for "On Air With Ryan Seacrest." It premieres Monday. Check your local newspaper for time and station in your area. And we'll be on on the 21st. And he succeeds this weekend, he succeeds Casey Kasem as the host of radio's "American Top 40," and, of course "American Idol." We'll be right back to tell you about tomorrow. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Terrific guy, Ryan Seacrest.

Hey, the royals are in the news. Boy, are they in the news. And we're going to cover it tomorrow night with four experts, discussing the doings of those folks in Great Britain.

The doings at "NEWSNIGHT" always surround its host. Its host is Aaron Brown. He is ready to anchor another hour, making television history, and I like the tie. Mr. Brown, it's yours.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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